Once the stomach agreed to at least a temporary truce, I’d gone back to the hospital to sit with Danielle. Now that I knew her spirit wasn’t there all I could sense was the hollow absence. Her body lay in the bed, heart pumping and lungs moving, but it was empty like a still life painting where the fruit bowl’s contents had been cruelly ripped from the canvas. What was left was only a blank outline of where Danielle’s spirit should have been.
It was wrong. So very wrong.
Charlie had set up funky looking wards all over the walls, floor, and ceiling. He’d scattered mandalas and dreamcatchers about and placed stones on the counters, windowsill, even on top of the fluids drip. There had been a weird resistance when I crossed the threshold, but whatever he had done must have decided I was safe enough and eased off.
Jenna sat with me while nervously fiddling with a small gold cross dangling around her neck. She must have put it on back in her room when changing clothes earlier. I’d never seen her wear it before. She’d insisted on keeping me company and had been pretending to read a book for her English class in between glances every few minutes to see if I was okay. Which, to be honest, was not the case below the forced appearance of calm.
After all, let’s sum up:
Danielle was in a coma with her spirit lost in the never-never somewhere.
The truth was undeniable that I was no longer human by any stretch of the imagination, with seriously frightening powers sitting like a sickly-sweet cherry on top.
Tsáyidiel had been a fallen angel and was now not only restored but mystically bound to me. How the heck had I done that? Had that been God working through me? I had no idea how to tell the difference. Tsáyidiel might know but he, of course, was no longer around to ask.
Oh, and add to everything Natalie’s report on her conversation with the DPA about Nick. The last information they had on him was that he had been checked unconscious into a hospital in Aleppo but had disappeared later that night. They were busily trying to figure out whether he had slipped off by himself or if someone had taken him. What they could actually do about either scenario sounded extremely limited.
Yeah, I was not okay. Not at all.
That emptiness within Daniele where her soul should have been kept driving me nuts. “Hey, Jenna?”
“Mmm?” She looked up from the same page she’d been on for the last ten minutes.
“I’m gonna go get a drink from the vending machine downstairs. Want anything?”
I gave her a look. “Yeah. I don’t need a bodyguard for that.” I stuck my tongue out at her.
She didn’t smile. “I’ll take a Coke. Or a Pepsi if that’s all they have.”
With a sigh, I shuffled out of the room and down the hallway. It was after the seven o’clock shift change and the floor had gone quiet. Most of the rooms were empty in any case, so there wasn’t much for the nurses to be doing. This place was rather strange as a hospital when you thought about it: the building had a capacity far exceeding what a private school should ever hope to need. I had a feeling that their magical and devisor medical capabilities were off the charts. Ha, get it? Medical charts? Oh forget it. I didn’t feel much like laughing either.
Maybe the school took rich outside patients for super-specialized treatments. They could probably make a lot of money that way which would be a great source of scholarship funds.
Brendan had been put in a room halfway down the hall but when I quietly peeked in he was sound asleep. He was hooked to an I.V. line and to a heart monitor that pulsed steady and strong. They had to be giving him some crazy dosages of pain medications just to get an effect, one of the few drawbacks to being an exemplar. I moved on to let the poor guy sleep.
Further down the hall was an occupied room with the light still on and being nosy I snuck a look at whoever was in there. The board outside the door had said, ‘August Rose’, but that was not a name I knew.
A girl was propped up in the bed, busily scribbling in a notebook. Another I.V. ran into one arm and electrodes were stuck to a few places on her forehead leading to a separate device on a second pole by the bed. Its screen was displaying a colorful three dimensional brain that kept cycling through a fixed color palette not unlike old-school screen savers once favored by kids who liked dropping acid. Or so I’ve heard.
She was the girl who had called me ‘Gabriel’ before passing out after I had landed with Danielle outside. The floor must’ve creaked because she startled, looking up right as I recognized her.
“You!” we said in unison.
Eyes went wide behind her glasses while the brain monitor device started flashing hypnotic purples and blues.
“Uh, hi?” I ventured. “Can I come in?”
She nodded, still staring at me with some seriously dilated pupils. But after I stepped fully into the room she blurted, “You’re the angel! Holy shit!”
I cringed. “Yeah, guess I am.”
“That landing was so cool! But where’d the wings go?” She tilted her head, trying to see at my back.
“They, well… I put them away.”
“You can do that? Neat!” The blues shifted to reds and the purples into gold.
“What’s with the brain thing?” I said, pointing at the display.
“Oh that? I’m not really sure, but they wanted to monitor me tonight.”
“You saw us and then passed out. You okay?”
She shrugged. “I was having this horrible headache. Like knives from those commercials where they cut through nails were stabbing my head. Then I saw you land and it was like a bubble burst. The relief was so sharp it knocked me out.”
“Why’d you call me ‘Gabriel’? My name’s Jordan.”
“Hi Jordan, I’m August!” she said cheerily. “And as for that, well I had this trippy dream when I passed out.”
Nodding, she put down the notebook. “Yeah, was really vivid. Think it started right when I saw you, actually.”
I pulled over the visitor chair to sit on its front edge, leaning forward with interest. “Mind telling me what it was about?”
“Oh sure! The angel Gabriel was showing me around this fantastic city of white marble, gold, and silver. It was huge! And almost too perfect, you know? With these towers stretching way up…” She gestured widely with her arms, the I.V. pole shifting as its line went taut. “You look a lot like how she was in the dream, probably why I said that. But she’s cuter. No offense!”
“Um, none taken?” The time-line didn’t make sense. She’d called out the name before she passed out and had the dream. But I didn’t want to interrupt.
“Anyway, I woke up in the room here all fuzzy headed. They’ve given me some sort of brain drugs that make me feel loopy. The doctor said my brain activity is highly unusual - those are the words he used - and they were concerned. I feel fine now, other than the meds.”
“Well, that’s good to-”
“Oh!” She interrupted. “They blamed you for it too.”
Nodding, she spoke quickly. “When I woke up they said there’d been a major magical event outside the school and that it was reverberating everywhere. The doc said you were the cause or at least very involved. They think I was overly sensitive to it and that’s what caused the headache. Then seeing you with wings and everything pushed my imagination into overdrive, and so I dreamed of being with the angel Gabriel. They told me not to worry about it, though they still stuck these things on my head.”
Crap, how loud of an event had it been? And would that happen every time the new wings came out? Argh, I hoped not. Being able to fly might be the only neat thing out of this entire mess. If they sounded some kind of spiritual gong every time I tried to use them, that would suck.
She kept talking. “I also saw some of my symbols in that dream, so I’ve been trying to draw them.”
Pushing aside thoughts of flying and magical radar systems shrieking worldwide, I asked, “Symbols?”
“I’m a magic user. The examiners think I have good potential. When I was little I made up my own symbols, drawing them on everything. Drove mom nuts. And one day they actually started working and affecting stuff! It’s why I’m here at the school. I’m not a mutant, but a ‘baseline magic talent’ according to the tests.”
“Mind if I see?”
She shrugged and handed me the spiraled sketchbook. “I’ve made up ones for the elements and basic spells. You know, like casting light or levitating small objects, that kind of thing.”
Flipping open the notebook, there were sets of wavy lines and scribbles. At first they seemed like random broken lines, arrows, and circular paths drawn on the page - heck they even seemed to shift and change while staring at them. But something clicked.
In a vision overlapping the physical page, each symbol came into intense focus as planar projections of complex multi-dimensional patterns. From that perspective they weren’t broken at all, rather they were representative of distinct and connected motions of energy weaving through the layers of time and space. The nuances weren’t clear, but the general shapes started making sense.
“Fire,” I said, turning the pages one by one. “Cold, wind, shielding…”
She gasped. “You can read them?”
“A little?” Feeling the rug getting yanked out from under my mental feet, I turned to the page she had been working on. A single rather involved symbol dominated the entire sheet of paper.
The image swam off the paper and I dizzily looked away. Meeting her curious eyes accidentally triggered a glimpse of the pattern softly glowing behind them: she was this symbol, or at least her spirit had been long ago. It lay there at her center, dim and forgotten, but not erased.
“Tamiel,” I mumbled. “Your name is Tamiel.”
Her jaw fell. “That’s what Gabriel called me in the dream!” The brain scan machine bleated loudly, sounding some kind of alarm.
I was no longer listening. A large chunk of memory broke free to swarm my awareness, picking it up like a paper airplane sucked into a hurricane and launching it elsewhere.
The inside of the thatched-roof hut was small yet cozy. Animal hides of various thicknesses covered both the floor and the seats of the wooden chairs dominating the center of the room. The chairs were embossed with intricate Celtic knot-work humming quietly with enchantments of home and tranquility. Tiny glowing will-o-wisps danced and fluttered about the support beams above, their glittering light blending into a soft pulsing illumination brightening the room.
“It’s been a long time, Fionna,” Gabriel was saying. “I’m saddened to hear of the loss of your parents and brothers. Your mother was a fine queen for your people, and always an exquisite hostess.”
A regal lady of the fae sat before Gabriel, two silver braids framing slender high cheekbones. A thin crystal circlet upon her brow was the only mark of royal status as her robe, while clean, was simple green linen.
“Your words are kind, Lady Gabriel. I must apologize for our inability to host such an honored guest in the style and jubilation as ought to be accorded, but alas - we have fallen upon hard times and in this age we are forced to be more reserved.”
Gabriel smiled sympathetically. “The conflicts and sundering of this world will take a measure of time to heal.”
Beyond the hut lay the village that had drawn the two angels’ attention as they flew over the island resting to the west of the larger continent. Following the lines of power running underneath the world, dim as they may have become, had led Gabriel to this settlement. Ancient standing stones had been erected nearby to mark the site of energetic confluence.
As she had hoped to find, the gathering of peoples here included remnants of the fae: sidhe, brownies, and the myriad of other fae creatures all huddling close to the font which still had power enough to preserve them.
Fionna snorted bitterly. “A measure of time, Lady? To your eternal Host that hovers close to the center of the Wheel of Time, it may not seem like much. But for those of us trapped here it may as well be forever. Our people are dying.”
“Most of the sidhe have departed, heading for other worlds. Why not do the same?”
Silver pupils sparked. “Those with the power to do so have already gone. False royals fleeing with their closest and most skilled retainers, leaving the rest of our folk who could not survive such a crossing behind. As my only surviving elder sibling is oath-bound as a Priestess of Gaia, the burden of Queenship has fallen upon my shoulders. The title of queen in this age is a mockery of what it once was, but I shall not abandon our folk, neither the mightiest warrior of the sidhe nor the smallest bogarts now forced to hide within wells run dry!”
Gabriel raised a hand in apology. “I am sorry, Fionna. We are still learning of the situation that has befallen this world, and we mean no offense. The Grigori were sent to assist, but the reality and the reports we have received are clearly in dispute. Making sense of it all and determining what must be done is why I have sought out the counsel of your fair folk.”
The queen rubbed the space below the delicately forged crown. “Your Watchers have been a mixed bag, archangel. Some have done what they could to assist the inhabitants here and our struggles, while others…” She paused, not wanting to offend her guest.
“While others,” the angel completed, “have consorted with humankind and bred abominations that do not belong on any world. And it took a minor scout’s retrieval of a human witness for us to even hear of these acts. The council is displeased, and the Chorus of the Grigori shall be held accountable.”
“But are they all guilty, Lady Gabriel? Some have only tried to-”
A tall hooded figure being pushed past thick curtains interrupted the fae queen’s words. The source of the shove followed, clad in gold and black armor with blood red-wings sweeping behind.
“I found this one hiding amongst the stones in a stream nearby.” Camael’s eyes burned under the helm covering his face. “Kneel, Grigori,” he said coldly as he forced the taller figure to its knees. “Give proper greetings to the Archangel.”
The figure, trembling hands trying to grasp at the fur-lined flooring, bowed low. Camael yanked back the woolen hood, revealing a face of beauty - both masculine and feminine - which was marred only by tears flowing over smooth skin.
Gabriel was out of her chair, gathering the weeping one into her arms. Wrapping instantly manifested dove-like wings around them, she shouted at the warrior. “That’s enough! Stand down!”
The battle-blooded angel took a step back and crossed his arms.
Hands clutched at Gabriel’s dress, and through a sob was whispered, “Lady Gabriel, I’m… so sorry…”
Sighing deeply, Gabriel looked up at the lady of the fae. “Forgive us, Queen Fionnabhair, but could you give us a few moments in private? We can move elsewhere if need be.”
The queen gazed concernedly at the weeping Grigori. She opened her mouth as if to say something, but a quick glance at the imposing angel by the wall caught the words in her throat instead. Coughing slightly, she rose to her feet. “I shall take my leave then, Archangel,” she said with a touch of frost to her words. “If you should have need, I shall be nearby.” With a nod first to Gabriel followed by a colder one to the warrior, she stepped outside.
The silence lay thick in the room. Even the will-o-wisps above held their breath, their dance motionless.
“Oh Tamiel,” Gabriel said gently as she brushed short dark strands away from the tears on the other angel’s face. “When last I saw you, your hair flowed to your ankles as a river under a starry sky.”
“We… we cut it,” came the quiet reply.
“’We’? You mean you’ve all cut your hair?”
A nod. “It was Sariel’s idea. A symbol of cutting our ties to the Host. He said it was something other exiles had done.”
Gabriel’s open hand shot up, forestalling the warrior who had taken a step closer in rising anger.
“But why, Tamiel?” she asked.
Anguish flooded the other angel’s voice. “We needed to go home, but we were abandoned! For ages, Gabriel… you don’t know what it’s been like!”
A low growl from under the helm caused Gabriel’s eyes to flash hotly with irritation. “Step outside, Camael.”
“My Lady, I am here as your protection.”
“As if you would have let them be armed in my presence. You do your tasks well, now allow me to do mine. That’s an order, Regent.”
With a curt bow, the warrior stepped through the hanging cloths covering the doorway, pulling in his wings so they could clear the narrower exit.
Gabriel shook her head. Rising, she lead Tamiel to the archangel’s former chair. “Sit. Here, have some wine.” Refilling a pewter mug from a pitcher on the floor, she handed it to the Grigori. “Drink, Tamiel, and speak with me.”
Tamiel took a slow sip, wiping the moisture from their face with a sleeve. Gabriel sat cross-legged on the floor before the chair, causing the Grigori’s eyes to widen at the impropriety of their positions.
“I need answers, Tamiel,” Gabriel said quietly yet firmly. “Have you rebelled against the Throne?”
Eyes the grey shade of a fog-covered ocean widened further. “No!”
“Yet you cut your hair.”
A forced swallow. “This… this world is now my home.”
Irritation crept into the archangel’s tone. “And you Watchers threaten it entirely by breeding these Nephelim. Such an act invites this world’s destruction by the Council!”
“Not I!” Tamiel blurted. “I have nothing to do with those… cross-breeds. It’s awful, Gabriel! What they do to create them, it’s-”
Tamiel shook their head. “You don’t understand. Only a handful are stable. Out of each hundred that they’ve bred, only one or two survive. The merger of our spirit and human flesh, it wasn’t meant to be.” Tamiel swallowed in repulsion. “They fall apart. Skin and muscle melt into pieces, and they scream - such awful screams. The patterns of their spirits dissolve away, leaving nothing. No afterlife, the human soul spark used in the attempt falls out of reach to the levels closest to the Abyss, tainted forever by the cruelness done to it.”
Gabriel paled as the Grigori continued. “The success rate is better for the stronger of us, especially if the angelic parent maintains the offspring by keeping them coherent with continual force of will. I couldn’t do it. I can’t bear the thought of losing even one! It’s bad enough watching beloved humans grow old and die over and over again - but children of my own? In such a horrid way? No.”
The archangel’s expression hardened. “The testimony of Enoch, the human raised up as witness, spoke of thousands. Thousands, Tamiel! Human sparks merged with angelic patterns. That’s an act of rebellion, plain and simple. Humanity itself may prove to be a threat to all things after they have developed further; even as they are now their free will brings more than enough chaos. Their Judgment will come some future day at the appropriate time. But this? Each Nephelim may possess the free will humanity enjoys, each reaching their own individual connection to the Source and thus able to alter the pattern of creation at deeper levels than mankind shall yet reach for generations beyond counting. Their existence perverts the fabric and the plan. This cannot be allowed.”
“It gets worse,” the Grigori whispered.
“Worse?” Gabriel stared at the other angel. “How can it be worse?”
Closing eyes, Tamiel slumped in the chair. “Azazel and Shemyaza. They’ve made a deal.”
“A deal? With whom? Samael?” Painful memories of the first war flickered disturbingly in Gabriel’s mind.
“No. Rumors are they met with an Archon of the primordial chaos. Azazel has taken the energies from Outside into himself, and used it within the patterns of his offspring.”
Gabriel rocked backwards in dismay. “Blasphemy of blasphemies!”
Tamiel nodded. “They breed an army with which to conquer this world. With all the humans then under their control, they mean to forge an even larger force with which to conquer Heaven.”
The archangel was on her feet. “If this is true, then this world’s fate is sealed. Michael will purify it with the fires of its sun and the Host shall scour clean the remains.”
“No, wait, please!” Tamiel was out of the chair, pewter mug clattering to the floor, and knelt in supplication at the archangel’s side. “Gabriel, I beg you…”
“Beg me? Tamiel, this is now beyond my hands.”
“Humanity will be lost! Please!”
“A surgeon must cut out rot that threatens the whole. One more race lost to time is saddening, yet is a small price to pay.”
“But they are special! You haven’t seen what they can do. Wipe all of us Grigori away if you must, cast our threads back to Source or the Abyss, but please, please spare the humans!”
Gabriel paused. “You would sacrifice yourself to save them?”
Choking back new tears, Tamiel nodded. “Yes.”
“Tell me why.”
“They… they are beautiful. And what they can do, that is even more so! When they love, Gabriel - when they love they move the universe. Out of that love they make choices that did not exist as possibilities until the very moment of choice created them. I’ve seen it! From the smallest changes to ease the pain of just one of their beloveds, to forging impossible victories out of certain defeat to save their entire families or clans. A single act of kindness can cleanse a lifetime of hate, I’ve seen it happen. And so much more! I love them, Gabriel. They will make all of creation better than the Host has ever imagined if only given the chance to do it!”
A gentle hand brushed away fresh moisture from the Grigori’s face. “Then help me, Tamiel. For if I call down my Kerubim en masse, Michael will surely follow and he will not hesitate to burn this threat away in its entirety. That is his purpose, our Prince. He is the Defender of the Throne and he is thorough. And while Camael’s squad awaits his command, they are not likely to be sufficient to eliminate such a threat as you have described without also resorting to more drastic measures. If you had just come home to tell us sooner…”
“We couldn’t. It was forbidden.”
“The tribunal that rendered verdict on our petition forbade us from returning for at least seventy cycles of the Throne.”
“Seventy cycles? That’s-”
“Seventy-thousand journeys around this world’s star.”
Gabriel buried her face in her hands. “The fools. I’m sorry, Tamiel, but I see no other way forward. I must unleash destruction upon this world.”
Tamiel chewed the inside of a cheek. “What if… what if I knew someone who might be able to see a better path?”
Scoffing bitterly, Gabriel said, “Only the First could illuminate such a thin thread within the possibilities, and as I understand it he has taken up residence in Hell on the shores of the Abyss.”
“What if I told you that when we first arrived on this world he too was here? And that it was he who taught us how to breed with humanity?”
“The Lightbringer came to Earth?” Gabriel said with surprise. “But he is not here now. We would have felt his presence.”
“No, he isn’t. His daughter, however, is. She is who you should talk to.”
“What?” Surprise became shock.
“I can take you to her. I can take you to Aradia.”
Someone was shining an annoyingly bright light into my eyes.
“Ow, quit it,” I muttered. Talk about a lousy way to wake someone up.
Wait, wake up? Had I been asleep? I was sitting in a chair.
“Jordan, how do you feel?” An older nurse hovered over me.
“Uh, hi? Did I black out?” The last thing I’d been doing was talking to the girl, August…
Oh. Tamiel. The whole remembered scene from the distant past was crystal clear in my mind. What was disconcerting was that it had all been perceived as if I had been Gabriel, seen through her eyes and feeling her emotions. In that previous dream I’d been a witness, this time I’d relived it as if it were my own. How the heck does that work?
“You totally did!” August piped up from her bed. “Do you have narcolepsy or something?”
The nurse helped me sit up straighter, causing some tugging on my forehead. Huh. She’d placed those brain monitor things on me instead of August while I was out. I peeked around the nurse to see the display showing nothing but multi-colored static.
Real helpful I’m sure.
“No, not narcolepsy, sheesh. Just getting angelic memories dumped on me occasionally.”
“Is that how you knew they called me Tamiel?” August demanded to know.
“The symbol in your notebook. That’s what it means. It’s also written on your soul.” Ah crap, probably shouldn’t have said that yet.
“Wait, what? You’re saying that I really am Tamiel? That the dream was real?”
I sighed. “Sorry, August. But yeah. I think it likely, especially as I just got a flash of this time where you had a run-in with Gabriel because of the-”
“Don’t tell me!” she shouted, shutting me up. “Seriously, don’t.”
The nurse, frowning at the brain scan thing, reached over and removed the probes from my head. She also pretended she wasn’t paying attention to the conversation. Ha! As an excuse to linger she shoved a blood pressure cuff onto my arm.
“You don’t want to know what I saw?” I asked August.
“Not from anyone else.” The girl was adamant.
“Because! Do you have any idea how easily the brain can make stuff up? I’ve seen shows on stuff like this: psychologists doing hypnotherapy and screwing up, leading their patients into all kinds of crazy beliefs of things that never happened. If you tell me anything, I might believe it, or worse build on it and go down a really crazy road.”
“I hadn’t thought of that.”
She nodded emphatically, and her glasses slid down her nose. She pushed them back up. “If my dream was real, then all information about who I was needs to come from me and not be influenced by anyone else. Even if yours was also something that really happened, I’d want to remember it first.”
“But you could be an angel, like me! The rabbi even gave me books about the lore to read up on to help.”
“Don’t read them! I doubt the real story would have been written down properly in any case.” She settled back down on the bed, seemingly nonplussed.
“This doesn’t bother you?” I asked, surprised by her lack of freaking out. “It scared the heck out of me when I was told about this stuff.”
She pointed to the tubing and its contents dripping into her arm. “Like I said, they’ve got me loopy on brain meds to keep me calm. I’ll probably spaz like crazy tomorrow. But it’s all good!”
The nurse finished checking my blood pressure and muttered, “Perfectly normal.” The way I was feeling, that sounded awfully incorrect. Because c’mon, things were so far from being normal it was ridiculous. She did comment a bit more loudly that August needed her rest. I took the not-so-subtle hint and stood up.
At least the world didn’t spin when I did so.
“August,” I said, “If you do have more dreams of… angel things… could you tell me? With what’s been going on, I need all the information I can get. I’ll respect your wishes and not tell you anything in return, alright?” Her notebook was still in my hands so I offered it back to her.
She took it and held it to her chest protectively. “You’ll run the risk of anything I say influencing or messing up your own beliefs, but if you want it anyway… well okay. And I may want to run an experiment to make sure you actually can read my symbols and aren’t just reading my mind.”
“Sounds fair. I’m, uh, sorry if I disturbed you.”
“Are you kidding? This is exciting! I’ve been a baseline human who can barely levitate a pebble at a school where kids can fly and do truly awesome stuff and you just told me I might be special too! How cool is that?”
I hoped she would feel the same way once those medications wore off, but didn’t say it. Instead I wished her goodnight and headed back to Jenna and Danielle, my mind spinning around the concept of more incarnated angels wandering around on Earth. Not to mention having some of Gabriel’s memories locked in my head somehow.
Did I really want to dislodge them all? Or was I running the risk of making stuff up too?
I didn’t have a good answer to either thought. Jenna, however, had a pertinent question of her own after I walked back in to Danielle’s room and collapsed into a chair.
“Hey Jordan, where’s my coke?”
The phone was ringing again but this time it didn’t wake me up. I’d given up trying to sleep hours ago.
“Yeah?” I said crankily, turning away from the web comics that had kept me distracted since dawn.
“You’re awake. Good.” It was Mrs. Cantrel.
“If you say so.”
“Did you get any sleep, girl?” She sounded groggy too.
“Not really. I kept seeing…” I didn’t finish the sentence. Cantrel had been there, she’d seen it too.
There was a tired sigh on the other end. “I doubt any of us had peaceful nights within the sweet arms of Morpheus. But the sun is up, and there is business to attend to.”
I grunted noncommittally.
“Have you eaten?” she asked.
“Well get yourself to Crystal Hall and find something. You’ve got half an hour before the administration expects you to deliver your report on yesterday’s events.”
“Jordan, I…” There was an awkward pause. “Just don’t be late. And remember that the flag is red.” She hung up.
Now I felt guilty. She’d helped try to save Danielle, she didn’t deserve the shitty attitude. Dangit.
I threw on some clothes and did a quick check of Khan’s food bowl which was still full. The little guy hadn’t eaten his breakfast yet either. From his spot on the corner of the bed he watched me leave.
The sky outside was dark and oppressive with the air smelling sharply of more rain on the way. While the forecast yesterday claimed the skies were to be clear for days, obviously mother nature had decided otherwise.
Jenna hadn’t been in her room when I knocked, so I was alone when facing the overwhelming choices offered by the cafeteria. Nothing really seemed appealing. By default a plate was piled with bacon along and a toasted English muffin. That would have to do.
Tray loaded, I meandered past tables of other students while scanning for either an empty one or maybe some familiar faces who weren’t staring or whispering loudly as I went past. Obviously rumors of events were swirling full force through the Whateley grapevine.
Leland waved enthusiastically from a far corner. He was wearing a deep blue long-sleeved shirt that normally would have been causing him over-sensitivity fits, but instead of grimacing from all the motion he was grinning. He did however have on his usual wrap-around sunglasses and hearing protection ear-covers. Next to him was a girl with bright purple hair that dangled in front of face staring down at a phone in her lap.
Setting down my tray, I tried to smile. “G’morning Leland. Who’s your-” My query was cut off as the girl looked up from the game, saw me, and a somber and focused expression brightened immediately.
“Evie?” I blinked in surprise. “Your hair!”
Evie smiled widely. “You like it?” She reached up and flipped her bangs back into place.
“That’s quite a difference!” It was, too. Not only were her formerly midnight black locks now a glittering purple, but her whole face was brighter somehow.
“Natalie suggested trying something new.” Eyes now uncertain looked at me, and I knew she needed reassurance.
Evie didn’t deserve my mood either, so I forced a cheerfulness that wasn’t felt. “It looks great, sweetie! Maybe I should get mine done too!”
“Oh no!” she exclaimed loudly. “Your hair is too cool to change!”
“Not as cool as yours is now, though.”
She giggled happily.
Leland piped up with, “Hmm… perhaps I should try mine as a light blue? Though I don’t think I have enough anymore.” He gestured to the freshly cropped dark curls atop his head. As his hand dropped down the shirt slid over the arm but he didn’t flinch. Usually he avoided going out on red flag days because of having to wear shirts and pants which to his skin felt like continuously being stabbed.
“Hey Leland,” I said after taking a bite of the muffin. “New shirt? You seem remarkably comfortable in it.”
“Gadgeteer fabric using nanotech!” He waved arms about with joy. “Practically frictionless, I can’t feel a thing! Isn’t that awesome?”
Seeing how happy he was as he painlessly moved his arms about, I had to agree. “Sure is. That’s fantastic.”
“Frieda, this senior gadgeteer, came to me a few weeks ago. She’s been working on this incredible nano-fabric stuff and needed help with quality control. As my senses are stupidly sensitive and scream at any imperfections in a surface, I helped her perfect the process. She says the engineering applications are unlimited. She’s even promised me a percentage of the profits if I keep helping! I’ll also get all the clothing I can use.” He grinned widely.
Sounded like a win-win to me. “That’s great.”
Evie interrupted, clearly anxious to change the topic and tell me something. “Jordan!”
“I’ve been practicing something. Watch!” She held an open hand over her t-shirt and closed her eyes.
After a questioning glance to Leland, he shrugged. He didn’t know what she was doing either. We could tell she was concentrating really hard, but nothing so far was happening.
“Gimme a moment, okay?” she asked after I’d managed to eat a couple strips of bacon. Her purple eyebrows furrowed with intense focus.
I felt it first as an easing of stress across the shoulders and neck. Leland and I both gasped when a shimmering whiteness flowed outward from her chest, forming into a soft fluorescing sphere hovering above her hand. Where before her manifestations had been dark and oily eel-like things, this was their exact opposite: an opalescent orb radiating soft waves of gladness and peace.
To say that Leland and I were stunned was an understatement of epic proportions.
“Holy cow, Evie!” I said, my jaw dropping. “That’s… that’s amazing!” Her face practically glowed to match the sphere, but the surge of pride must have broken her concentration as the orb flickered before popping much like a soap bubble. Where the shimmering remnants landed on my arm a soothing calm washed away the lingering dark mood from the morning.
“Darn, lost it.” She looked really disappointed.
“That was incredible!” I said, in awe of the peacefulness radiating from just that small contact. “When did you start learning how to do that?”
Perking up from the praise, she said, “Natalie asked me to try the other day during a session. If I focus on a happy memory I can sometimes get one to pop out.”
Leland chimed in too. “Sweet! You could do a ton of good with those. I bet they could help a lot of people.”
I understood what he meant. Her dark emanations caused others to be absolutely paralyzed with their worst fears and sadness, driving deep depression into their hearts. But this? If it could do the opposite…
“Whoa, yeah. Leland is right. If you can perfect that, there’s no telling how much good you could do.”
“You think so?”
We both nodded emphatically. “Heck yes,” I said.
She grinned. “Then I’ll keep practicing!”
“Great!” I smiled back, no longer needing to force it. But I did notice the time on the clock. “Dangit, I gotta run.”
Leland objected. “But we haven’t even had a chance to ask you what happened yesterday! There’s all kinds of stories.”
As I got to my feet I looked sadly at the uneaten pieces of bacon still on my plate. “Sorry guys. I have to go give an official accounting of it all to the folks in charge. I’ll fill you in later, alright?”
Evie caught my hand. “Are you okay?” she asked with concern.
Squeezing her fingers gently, I tried to find an honest answer. “I don’t really know. But it’s not me I’m worried about right now.”
Her expression shifted to one much older than someone her age should ever carry. With that sudden seriousness Evie said, “Go take care of them. Whoever it is that needs you. We can wait.”
Waving goodbye to them both, I jogged out of the hall.
After arriving at Schuster Hall I was led by Mrs. Shugendo to a small conference room and told to wait there. Her expression was all business, all I could do was comply.
A few minutes later Isaiah walked in. He again was dressed for court: suit, tie, cuff-links, and Rolex. If you hadn’t known him as well as I did you would never have guessed how not only tired he was, but also how worried. The tightness around the eyes and the stiff posture gave it away.
He took a seat across from me and nodded. “Jordan.”
“Isaiah. You get any sleep on the plane?”
“No.” He scowled for a long moment before turning his face away and sighing. “Do you have any idea how hard it is to be angry with you when you look like that?”
“What?” I frowned.
He waved a hand. “You. Looking so young and innocent. If you were still Justin, I’d be yelling at you right now.”
This, of course, got me upset. “If you want to yell, don’t let me sitting here as a girl stop you. Bring it.”
He inhaled, then shouted, “What the hell were you thinking?”
“Leaving the security defenses of the school like that! Being so reckless!”
Like I hadn’t been asking myself the same damn thing all morning. “We only went to a nearby lake. How the hell were we to know our cover was already blown?”
“You should have been more careful!”
I got to my feet, putting a hand on the table. “We have been careful! Were we supposed to never leave the school at all? We didn’t even go into town! The bigger question is not just how they found us, but how they knew where we were going before we even got there!”
“Carson is working on that, as is Goodman. But that’s not what I’m talking about! I’ve been briefed on what happened. After dealing with the gryphon, you let your guard down!”
The scene replayed in my head: the avatar Billy at my feet and Danielle coming up beside. Taking too much time to look at the burning trees…
Fuck. My friend was right. It hadn’t even occurred to me there could be more enemies out there besides the enslaved Kerubim.
“I… I didn’t expect…” Sinking back into the chair, I chewed on a thumb.
“You did not expect,” he repeated. “After all the danger scenarios I put your characters through in every game I ran, you didn’t think.”
“Hey! This isn’t a fucking role-playing game, Isaiah!”
“EXACTLY!” he yelled, his face turning red. “This is REAL! Every ounce of paranoia, of caution, of planning you’ve ever learned sitting at my table - you better apply it or else you will lose a lot more than some hit points on a piece of paper! I thought you were smart enough to realize that already, but clearly I was wrong. And Danielle is now paying the price.”
“What do you want me to do? Go ahead and heap the blame on me if you want, but that is not going to help her now.”
“I want you to work on fixing it.”
“A shaman here at Whateley is asking his spirits to try and track down hers. And I’ve already done what I could for that too.”
“I sent Tsáyidiel to find her.”
He stuttered. “The… the very fallen angel who was trying to kill her? Are you mad?”
“He’s not fallen any longer. He’s cleansed and he’s free. And I think somehow bound to me.”
Isaiah shook his head in disbelief. “That’s impossible. It has to be a ruse. Though if they plan to use her spirit as bait to get you somewhere, he’d likely still lead you to where she is. So the idea does have potential.”
I seriously wanted to shake him. “You aren’t listening! I cleansed him, or God cleansed him by going through me, however you want to think about it. I am telling you that the name at his core was restored! He is no longer enthralled by Azazel and now he has a chance to be what he once was. He is trying to find Danielle as his first step of repentance!”
The red under his cheeks washed away to white. “How…?”
“How? Like I know or can explain any of this, dude! I just tried to give him a chance, to burn away the darkness corrupting him!”
He sat in silence, clearly in shock. Which seemed odd in and of itself.
“Why is that bothering you so much?” I asked. “Neither of us are experts on this angelic stuff, so how do you know it’s impossible?”
Confusion wrinkled his brow. “I… everyone knows this, Jus… Jordan. Angels, once fallen, stay that way.”
“And you believe everything you hear or read?”
“No, of course not. But this…”
“Well take it from the one who was there. It happened. And when I say that he’ll do whatever he can to find her, I believe him. Because he could never lie to me, I think the bindings between us would prevent it.” As I said them I felt the words to be true. Which was disturbing all on its own.
Sharp eyes refocused behind rectangular frames. “Put that aside for now. We need to get through today first.”
“Today?” I asked, confused.
“Three MCO agents are dead. Possibly killed by students from this school.”
The implications dawned. Oh hell. With all the other craziness this was more I hadn’t thought about. “Let me guess, there’s a huge investigation and I’ll need to be interviewed. And the MCO will want to nail Jenna and Brendan with murder charges.” Shit, shit, and also shit.
“Precisely. The interviews have already started as of this morning. Therefore, as your lawyer, when I tell you to shut up in there - you shut up. Got it?”
“What, I’m supposed to deal with this now?”
“I didn’t get on a plane last night just to sit at Danielle’s bedside. Director Goodman was on the same flight.”
Holy crud. The Director had come personally?
“If you don’t think you’re up to it from all the trauma of yesterday, tell me now. I can try to postpone.” Isaiah waited for me to answer and it was clear he had switched fully into lawyer mode. At least that meant he wouldn’t be yelling at me anymore. Small comfort.
I inhaled sharply then let it out slow. “No, let’s do it. Whatever I can do to help Jenna and Brendan.” I stood up again.
He didn’t. “We’re not done. I’m not sending you in there without going over your statement first in detail. Sit.”
“Now tell me, in your own words, exactly what you witnessed.”
Pausing to rewind the memories, I told him. It took awhile, which wasn’t too surprising I guess. He’d interrupt and point out things not to talk about as they were ‘part of an ongoing DPA investigation’ - which included pretty much anything about Nick and also any and all details about angels, cleansing Tsáyidiel, all of that. I was to simply talk about going to the lake, Tsáyidiel’s attack, and then driving his spirit from the host avatar mutant, Billy. Then watching Danielle get shot, a second round bouncing off of Jenna, and the subsequent flying Danielle to the hospital.
Once he was satisfied, he nodded. “Alright. Stick to this, and whatever you do, keep yourself under control.”
“Is it going to be that bad?” There was definitely stuff he wasn’t telling me and I didn’t like it.
“Let’s just say I want your recorded reactions in there to be genuine.” He looked at his watch. “The lunch break should be over; we can go.”
He rose from the chair, his thoughts clearly already running through mental scenarios of what was to come. He didn’t even realize that he held the door open for me, and when we went into a much larger conference room full of people present both physically and via video, he pulled a chair out for me in gentlemanly deference so I could sit first.
With everyone staring at us as we entered, I figured that right then was not the best time to tease him about it.
The interview went as smoothly as sandpaper across poor Leland’s skin.
Gathered around the table was myself, Mrs. Carson, Mrs. Cantrel, Lt. Forsythe, Isaiah, Director Goodman, and the Kirov brothers - Gregor and Immanuel. Connected via video conference on the huge screens that covered the walls of the room was the MCO contingent consisting of the Boston division Chief, two of his investigators, and to my surprise one Gloria Fairbanks - the same MCO agent who had grilled me at the hospital in Los Angeles when I had woken up with rather different internal plumbing. Also in his own window was a bald older man with a wide and strong face dressed in an impeccable suit and tie, wearing one of those U.S. flag pins on his lapel. He had remained quiet and hadn’t been introduced, but he was watching everything with an obvious keen intelligence.
As for Diego, the wizard at the DPA who had been teaching Danielle, he was absent. When I asked about him, Goodman merely said he was on leave and refused to elaborate.
Gloria, not surprisingly, was the one driving the MCO’s so-called theories on the incident, with the main thrust being that I wasn’t truly Justin Thorne but rather a conspirator of Callas Soren and therefore fully in cahoots with terrorists, including Tsáyidiel. No matter how much the facts showed otherwise, she was doggedly determined to make those accusations fit.
I’ll give Isaiah credit, though. Every time I was about to burst out yelling at the sheer idiocies spewing from her mouth, he put a hand in front of me to keep me quiet. And then he’d proceed to rip those ridiculous notions to shreds one by one with clear and brutal logic. It was highly satisfying.
She had already come to dislike him before I entered into the room as apparently he had prevented the MCO from interviewing Jenna or Brendan by speaking as their lawyer and requiring that, being minors, they must have a parent present. As I was officially emancipated I had no such loophole to avoid being dragged in, but I was really grateful that my friends were, so far at least, able to avoid being accused to their faces of being murderous terrorists.
“From the report given by Mrs. Cantrel and Lieutenant Forsythe,” Isaiah was saying, “both of whom are impeccable witnesses as we have all acknowledged given their backgrounds, the specific site at the lake chosen for the outing was not revealed to the students prior to their departure. Furthermore the entire trip was initially conceived Friday night, with permission and approvals not having been granted until yesterday morning. Thus any notion that Jenna Beltran, Brendan Rogers, or even Jordan Emrys could have used this outing as a pretext to meet with the international terrorist known as Tsáyid fails against the merits of the facts.”
Gloria interjected. “They could have called with cellular phones on the way.”
Isaiah shot that down too. “Thanks to the efforts of Director Goodman in securing fast-track warrants for their phone records, it is clear that no such activity occurred from the time they were invited to join the outing to the lake through to the time the Whateley Security squad arrived on the scene. Indeed from Mrs. Cantrel’s report, it is clear that Jordan herself was not entirely certain where she was and required guidance on how to even find the school when bravely carrying the grievously wounded Danielle Thorne to the trauma center on campus.”
“How do you explain then,” Gloria demanded, “how an inexperienced and newly meta-powered individual somehow managed to not only defeat the Class X designated terrorist entity but also sever the connection to its avatar host? This is clearly another ruse meant to deceive us!”
There was that term again: Class X. I could tell it didn’t mean anything good but that’s still all I knew.
Rabbi Kirov cleared his throat. “If I may, it is the opinion of our supernatural experts, in concordance with the measurements recorded at not just the nearby ARC facilities but also across the world, that a singular event occurred during that encounter. Collectively they have classified the unique energy signature as a Class Y event.”
Director Goodman interjected a question. “Class Y? What do they mean by that?”
The rabbi straightened in his chair. “Simply put, they have classified it as an Act of God.”
There was a moment of stunned silence before everyone tried to speak at once. Isaiah put a reassuring hand on mine while they all argued with voices rising in volume. I stared at his fingers but didn’t pull away.
Mrs. Carson stood and barked, “Enough!” That got them all to shut up.
The older guy on the video conference activated his microphone. “Mrs. Carson,” he said politely in a gravelly voice showing the abuse of far too many years smoking. “If I may?”
“Director Smith, go ahead.” Mrs. Carson glared at the rest who remained quiet.
Oh shit, I knew who this guy was. I’d seen his photo in a news article announcing his political appointment. He was the Director of National Intelligence, the guy that the FBI, the CIA, and even military spooks reported to. I swallowed nervously while hoping my stomach wouldn’t do anything stupid. You know, like puke bacon bits all over the conference table. Maybe an even blander breakfast would have been a better choice. You know, like a glass of water.
“First,” said the man who was in charge of all the intelligence agents in the United States, “let me offer my thanks to Director Goodman for contacting my office and inviting me to this conference.”
All eyes went to Goodman. The MCO’s glares revealed how they felt about such an invitation.
“Second,” Smith continued, “I just received a report from the Arkham Research Consortium on the nature of the ammunition used by the three deceased MCO agents. They confirm the presence of Class X residue within the recovered bullets and also within the bodies of the deceased. As such this is now a matter of National Security and will be handled exclusively by the DPA to be overseen by my office. Boston Chief McCormick, I require your division of the MCO to cooperate fully with the followup investigation. I will be drafting an order to test all MCO personnel in the city and rural offices for signs of this residue. Can I expect your full assistance, Chief?”
The head MCO guy, McCormick, looked distinctly uncomfortable. “Uh, I will need to discuss with my superiors, sir. But the MCO will certainly abide by the conditions of our agreement with the United States Government.” Gloria didn’t just look uncomfortable, her eyes wanted to jump out of their sockets in outrage.
But she held her tongue. Apparently she wasn’t completely stupid. Don’t quote me on that.
“Excellent,” Smith said. “Thank you. Your offices will be contacted shortly. With this evidence in hand it is clear that both Jenna Beltran and Brendan Rogers were defending themselves against a greater evil. Further, the details are hereby deemed Classified and not to be discussed. Understood?” Once everyone acknowledged, Smith ended the meeting and with a nod of familiarity to Mrs. Carson, the screens with the MCO personnel went blank. With them gone, Smith addressed Mrs. Carson and the rest of the Whateley staff present. “I’d like to thank you all for the swiftness of the transfer of the evidence to Arkham for independent analysis.”
Mrs. Carson smiled. “This is not our first rodeo with the MCO, Director.”
Smith chuckled. “No, it certainly isn’t. When it comes to events like this, your school seems to be ground zero for trouble.”
“We would be hard pressed to argue that,” she admitted. “What more can we do to assist?”
The chief of all the nation’s agents and spies lost his smile. “Find out whoever leaked to the compromised MCO agents the itinerary and passenger list for the excursion yesterday. Take all precautions in case they, too, are tainted and pose a threat.”
“Of course.” Mrs. Carson agreed.
“I do have an additional request,” Smith added. “One to which I’m sure Mister Cohen will object.”
Isaiah stiffened, removing his hand from mine as his eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Sir?”
“I wish to speak with Ms. Emrys directly. Alone.”
Smith had been right, Isaiah was seriously not happy about the idea. It took both Mrs. Carson and Goodman to convince him otherwise, along with me pointing out that if I didn’t talk to Smith then the guy in charge of all National Intelligence would think I had stuff to hide.
Which didn’t seem to be a very safe position to be in. Isaiah had to acknowledge the truth of that and reluctantly walked out along with everyone else, leaving me alone with Smith’s face dominating a single large screen on the wall. It was sort of funny, I’d met and snarked off to a sorceress thousands of years old and also had spoken with two archangels, but the thought of talking to a member of the President’s cabinet had me freaking nervous.
Once the door to the room shut, he took a sip from a clear glass before opening with a simple question.
“Should I call you Justin or Jordan?”
“Uh, Jordan is fine, sir. I’ve become used to it.”
He shook his head in sympathy as he put down the glass. “Hell of a thing, going through what you have. If it helps reassure you any, I’ve put the word out to our own experts that if they can help your niece, they should do so.”
“I… thank you, sir.”
“There’s no easy way to approach a subject like this,” he said, “so let me preface things first. Do you know what is meant by ‘Class-X’ and that classification?”
“Not exactly, no,” I said honestly. “I keep hearing it mentioned, but I just started classes and they haven’t covered it.”
He tapped fingers together. “It’s a designation for things beyond our understanding and, near as we can tell, things that should not be. In other words, entities and energies utterly foreign to our reality and possibly all levels of existence. If the mystics are to be believed, that is. To call these things evil barely scratches the surface of the horrors they represent.”
“Sir?” While I appreciated the clarification, where was he going with this?
He frowned as if trying to figure that out himself. “I’ve been in intelligence work all my life, both military service and with various government agencies. I say this because I once was a field agent and over those years encountered many things that defy description. And yet compared to Class X events what I’ve seen is practically harmless in comparison. They weren’t things which could pound their way free of the tightest magical and physical security that billions of dollars could buy, while destroying the minds of all the direct witnesses that, for whatever their reasons, the monsters didn’t simply shred limb from limb.”
I stayed quiet as he shuddered at the memories of the reports that had crossed his desk - or worse, that he personally had gone out to investigate.
“I relate all this so you can hopefully understand. Our world is not safe. There are things locked away that strive for our destruction, and they indeed have the power to wipe us out if given the opportunity. We have been lucky so far as our mystics, our shamans, and our specially talented people have managed - at times only barely and at tremendous cost - to hold back a madness of evil that would if unchecked destroy our very souls.”
He paused to let that sink in. “I was born and raised Christian. But along the way the faith that first propelled me into service eroded - chip by chip - with each new witnessed terror. And I’ve had to do and order things that haunt my thoughts and dreams. Occupational hazard, I suppose, but one I gladly pay for every life and soul my efforts have and might yet save. But that last shard within still clinging stubbornly to the belief in a caring God above demands to ask a question of you.”
He breathed in as if bracing himself. In a more subdued voice he asked, “Are you truly an angel of the Lord? Are you the answer to the prayers of all of us who have tried to hold the line against the dark all these years?”
I sat silently and he patiently waited for me to reply. Eventually I tried to answer. “It’s been a hard thing to come to grips with, sir, as you might imagine. I was never a man of faith myself before all this changed.” I gestured at my female body and all it represented. “Yet the more that things happen, the more I see and do, and the more I give myself over to the power I’ve become connected to… well, the more I’ve come to believe in it too. But,” I said quickly, “what it all portends, I cannot say. I’m riding a whirlwind here and where it all will end up - and how it might affect the world - is not something I have any grasp on. By all the evidence I am forced to admit that I may indeed be an angel, yet I am still struggling to understand what exactly that means. In that I’m just like anyone else: finding myself praying and asking for guidance and help.”
Smith allowed himself a small smile. “Are you familiar with the story of Joan of Arc?”
“Passingly so, sir.”
“She was on trial by priests who for political reasons needed to find her guilty of heresy. But the more they questioned her, the more they became troubled because she gave answers that reaffirmed the possibility that she might really have been sent by the Lord of Hosts. I find myself now understanding the difficulties that they faced.”
“I must go brief the President on an ‘Act of God’ that happened right here on American soil. As you can well imagine, it will be a tricky conversation.”
I winced. “Sorry. I wish I had more concrete things I could tell you.”
He waved off the concern. “Trust me, vague intelligence is something one gets used to in this business. I do wish to thank you for your candor. And to add that, should the Almighty be acting directly once again upon our world, the United States of America is still a nation under God and will stand ready to do her part in holding back the darkness with all the power and might she can offer.”
His statement left me speechless. How do you respond to something like that?
He smiled warmly, perceiving my difficulty in speaking. “Take care, Ms. Emrys. If you would, please send in Director Goodman. There are things I need to discuss with him further and may as well do so now.”
Swallowing, I nodded and got up. “Thank you, sir.” As I moved towards the door I stopped to look back at him. “If I might ask, what sort of questions did the priests ask Joan?”
He didn’t hesitate. “They asked her if she was truly in a state of grace with the Lord. For if she answered ‘yes’ they could pursue her on how anyone would dare claim to know the mind of God, and if she answered ‘no’ they would then have their result of heresy.”
“And her answer?”
“She replied that if she was indeed in a state of grace she prayed God would keep her. And if she wasn’t, she prayed He would guide her there.”
Once again at a loss for words, I stepped into the hall to send in Goodman.
I found Isaiah in Mrs. Carson’s office.
“Tell me what was discussed,” he demanded as soon as I walked in. Sometimes he forgets when he’s stuck in hard-ass lawyer mode.
“Nothing with legal ramifications,” I replied curtly.
“I’ll be the judge of that.”
Rolling my eyes, I caught Carson’s amused smile. “Seriously, dude,” I said to him, “Smith wanted to know if I believed I was an angel or not. He’s got a tough task on his hands in reporting everything, you know, to the President.”
Isaiah glared for a moment, then grunted.
“So uh, what now?” I asked. The large windows in Mrs. Carson’s office were being washed by a serious downpour outside. Great, I was going to get soaked. I’d forgotten an umbrella again.
Mrs. Carson answered. “For now, I need to speak further with Mr. Cohen about another matter. I imagine, however, that both he and Elliot - Director Goodman - will be hungry by four. Why don’t you come back around then and escort them to dinner here on campus?”
“Another matter?” I looked over at Isaiah curiously.
“I have been retained to assist the school on a different case. That’s all I can say.” He gave Mrs. Carson a meaningful look.
She sighed. “Let’s just say that Danielle isn’t the only recent victim of the MCO.”
“What? Who else have they hurt?”
Tapping fingernails on the desk, Mrs. Carson looked thoughtful. But before she said anything more the phone chimed. She picked it up and spoke firmly with the party on the other end. “Yes? … You have? … I see. Proceed with full protocol. … Yes. We will meet you there.”
Pursing her lips, she hung up. “You both should come with me.”
“Where?” I asked.
“Security detention. They’ve identified the leaker who compromised the lake trip to those MCO agents. They will be bringing him in.” Reaching behind her desk she produced a tall blue umbrella. Handing it to Isaiah she commented, “You’ll need this. Jordan and I can handle being cold and wet.”
I wanted to say she should speak for herself, but caught myself. As someone from California who was always hoping for more rain, I think I was finally tired of being drenched.
Yeah, yeah, cry a river. Though from the look of it out the window, that’s what the clouds were in the process of doing. Joyous.
Mrs. Carson and I indeed got soaked just from crossing over to Kane Hall where Security occupied the first floor and several basement levels. Security had already captured their target by the time we arrived. A full squad of armored security had gone for the safest option and simply used a tranquilizer dart on the suspected leaker before carting them away.
Thing is, he turned out to be one of their own: Security Private Orlando Jensen. Mrs. Carson told us on the way over that Orlando and been working there for three years and while he’d bent some rules occasionally, they’d never been anything serious.
Not like this, anyway.
Seeing the room they’d placed him in triggered a nasty flashback to the storage unit where Nick and I had found Danielle tied to a chair. This room, while much better illuminated, was similarly covered on the floor, walls, and ceiling with mystic symbols that were activated. The flow of energy spinning through it all kept trying to mess with my sense of balance which was the last thing my damn sensitive stomach needed. We peered in through a one-way mirror, its surface also adorned with magical seals and therefore making our view inside rather warped.
Orlando was unconscious and slumped upon a metal folding chair in the center of the room with many straps holding him securely in place. He had been stripped down to his underwear. They had even removed his wedding band, you could tell by the pale tan line clearly visible around the ring finger.
Isaiah didn’t seem at all surprised by the setup, his eyes were fixated only on the Private which made me wonder if he’d seen something like this before. Not that I could ask him right now though.
Carson gestured to a suited-up security guy hovering nearby. “Wake him up.” An order was given through his helmet’s comm system and a puff of white smoke blew into the room. Orlando coughed and his eyes fluttered open.
“What the hell…? Hey! Is this some kind of joke, why am I in the mystic lockdown? Guys?” He began to struggle against the restraints but they wouldn’t budge.
With another gesture from Carson, a light above our glass window went from red to green.
“Hello Orlando, can you hear me?”
He stopped struggling, eyes going wide. “Headmistress Carson? What’s going on?”
“I was hoping you could tell us.” Turning to the guy coordinating things, she said harshly, “Play it.”
Through the speakers came a recording. It was Orlando’s voice as he rattled off the details of our itinerary to the lake, mentioning me and Danielle by name and also the exact coordinates of our destination. Seriously, he included the longitude and latitude.
“That’s not me!” Orlando protested, his voice shrill with fear.
Carson watched the guy struggle and shout his innocence. With a frown she muttered quietly, “Louis, we could use your help.”
To Isaiah’s credit, he only jumped back a half-step when Louis appeared out of thin air.
“You rang?” he said with a smile, but his mirth faded upon seeing what was going on.
Pointing to Orlando, Carson said, “He’s the source that led the tainted MCO agents to Jordan and Danielle. We need to know if he’s under any mental compulsions or if his memory has been altered. But be careful.”
Raising an eyebrow at all the fully activated wards, Louis nodded. “Right.” He turned his attention to the frightened occupant in the other room.
Curious, I tried to open my senses too, wanting a better look at all the mystic wards in any case. They were amazing, swirling about like a field of ribbons to collectively lock Orlando’s spirit in place. If he started raising any magical manna, those ribbons were ready to channel it away and nullify any intended effect. But a different ribbon of magenta and silver danced between them all before slipping an end into Orlando’s forehead. It must have come from Louis.
“No compulsions currently,” Louis said. “But there is a gap in his memory… wait a moment…”
Because I was watching so closely, I saw it. A black spot appeared like a spider on Orlando’s shoulder to dart up his neck and launch itself at Louis’ ribbon. I didn’t have time to shout a warning as Louis’ image on our side of the window gasped and disappeared. The spider-thing had sunk dark tendrils into Louis’ mental connection to Orlando.
Just like I’d seen in Tamara when the demon had been infecting and corrupting her soul.
Reacting out of sheer instinct, I dropped the restrictions on my power and slammed the resulting surge all towards that spider. An equal back-flow cascaded into the channels for the wings and they instantly flared out behind me. The blinding light in front lashed out towards Louis’ reddish silver ribbon with the glistening blackness of that multi-tentacled spider-like thing that had latched on.
The energy hit and pulled me in.
Like a torch standing alone within the depths of the deepest of caverns, I burned. Louis was at my side; he struggled against the pressing darkness. With an effort of will that torch flared brighter to surround him within the safety of the light.
A harsh voice cut across the cavern.
“You are becoming an irritant, young one. This mentalist would have been a fine addition to our collective and would have easily made up for the loss of our hunter.”
Mentalist? Jesus, he meant Louis. Wait, their hunter? Ah hell. “You can’t have him, Azazel!”
The fallen angel laughed, causing a surge of pressure against the illuminated boundary I had projected. It was absolutely disgusting, like being shoved by rotting feathers dipped in an oil slick.
“It matters not,” Azazel rasped. “Our brother awakens, and soon we shall have the codex and thereby gain our freedom. Perhaps then we shall reward you for being the trigger for our success. Yes, little spark, we shall reward you with many gifts. So many that you shall drown in their despair!”
Again his laugh scraped against the barrier, but this time I pushed back, pulsing the light outward to hopefully burn away the enveloping darkness.
To my surprise the smothering black withdrew without a fight and we snapped free.
Refocusing with still-burning eyes, I was standing over Orlando’s unconscious form within the detention room. Mrs. Carson came bursting through the door holding some kind of mystical staff that left a trail of golden sparkles in its wake.
Louis’ image appeared next to me. “Carson! I’m alright!”
It was immediately obvious that the same could not be said for Orlando.
He wasn’t breathing.
“Oh no,” I gasped, and with hands still glowing bright I ripped him free from the restraints as if they were tissue paper, laying him on the floor before checking his pulse. There wasn’t one. Mrs. Carson shouted for the medical team as I began CPR.
But I knew it was a waste of effort. With every touch of my lips upon his trying to breathe air and energy into his lungs I could feel that the space where a soul had once resided had been ripped asunder. The pattern had been shredded, it would never again host a spirit.
His soul was gone and there was nothing left to come back to.
The medic was afraid to touch me so Mrs. Carson had to pull me off what once had been Private Orlando Jensen.
As she guided me out of the room, my cheeks covered with tears of white fire, I caught a glimpse through the remains of the one-way mirror I had slammed energy through. It wasn’t the melted wards and glass, however, that caught my attention.
It was Isaiah.
He stood in the other room staring fixated on Orlando’s lifeless and soulless body. Behind his glasses burned a deep and barely contained fury of the like I had never seen on my friend before.
I’ll be honest, it scared me.
We regrouped in a smaller conference room on a different sub-level. It was rather crowded as Director Goodman and Whateley Chief of Security Franklin Delarose had joined us. I’d already taken a moment in the hallway to clamp down on the light, which wasn’t hard to do given how heavy felt my heart.
Once everyone was seated Mrs. Carson looked over at Louis. “What happened.” It was a command to report rather than a question.
Louis, despite being a mental projection, stroked his chin introspectively. “I can offer only speculation at this point.”
Carson leaned her temple against a finger. “Explain what you can.”
He shrugged. “Orlando was both guilty and innocent. His psyche had been infected by something incredibly subtle, and which did not show itself to my preliminary scan.”
“It was Azazel,” I interrupted. All attention swung to me so I continued. “The spider thing - a piece of his evil I think - appeared and attacked Louis’ connection to Orlando. It was trying to infect Louis too. I’m, uh, sorry about your room and its wards,” I added sheepishly. I knew how much time and effort went into making those kinds of protections, having seen what it took just to redo the second circle in my bedroom. The mystical staff would have their hands full trying to rebuild the ones downstairs.
Chief Delarose, a serious looking man who totally should have been wearing a fedora but wasn’t, spoke to Louis. “Are you clean? We should send a team to scan you.”
Louis startled. “I believe I am. But yes, of course, by all means send a team. Better to be safe.”
“What about her?” The Chief pointed at me.
“It didn’t touch me,” I said firmly. “I didn’t let it, and that bastard ran away before I could blast him.”
“Azazel? He was there directly?” Mrs. Carson asked, concern deepening.
“How did he get past the school wards?” She stared at me intently. “There was no detectable disturbance.”
Louis answered as I didn’t have a clue. “If I had to venture a guess, whatever was in Orlando was not just a working of evil but a very tiny shard of Azazel himself. It didn’t need to penetrate the wards as it was already inside. And while our defenses are quite potent, they are more focused on keeping such things out - not in. The shard escaped to someone outside; I caught a glimpse of a subway car before all contact was lost.”
I was impressed. I hadn’t seen anything like that.
Director Goodman asked, “Do you recognize the subway?”
“New York City, I believe,” Louis replied. “Which would indicate a power and range far beyond my own - with only the tiniest fragment of spirit. Whoever it was on the subway, they were likely a nexus conduit for the wider New England area.”
Everyone was silent while that sank in. Louis was one of the most powerful psychics we knew, the thought of something even stronger was scary as heck. I risked a glance over at Isaiah who hadn’t said anything. He was back to being blank and observant, whatever had shown in the interrogation room was gone - or buried.
The Chief pondered the implications. “If our wards need improvement, how can that be accomplished? Do we have the capacity to defend against this entity?”
“Rabbi Kirov can help,” I said with sudden certainty. “When I met him he said he had warded his office so only an angel could have entered. Maybe he can do the reverse? Though if he does, he better somehow add me as an exception. This may sound weird, but I think angels may go through the dimensions differently than others do.” My thoughts kept picturing the writing in August’s notebook, how the full symbols wove themselves through the layers of reality. They blended dimensions in ways I couldn’t quite grasp except for an instinctive understanding that to the symbols all the layers were somehow seen as one.
Thinking about it gave me a headache. Powering up would probably help, but probably best not to do that in the middle of the conference room. The walls downstairs had scorch marks courtesy of my wings.
“The entity,” Louis was saying, “in its brief conversation with Jordan referred to itself as a collective. Which I believe gives us an answer to the actions of the MCO agents that our students encountered. Also, I advise avoiding saying the name of the entity if possible. Such names have power.”
Director Goodman paled. “How many more people might be infected by these shards?”
My stomach did a somersault at Louis’ calm and matter of fact reply. “Anywhere from a few thousand to a few million.”
Delarose said aloud what the rest of us were thinking. “Well, shit.”
Both Goodman and Carson tried to speak at the same time. He waved for her to go first, but with a tense smile she said, “Go ahead, Elliot.”
There was a brief answering smile under the mustache before he said, “I will need to recontact Director Smith with this latest information. We also need to immediately work on a way to detect these shards, and start the scanning with everyone at Whateley. Staff and students.”
Mrs. Carson didn’t look too happy about that, but Chief Delarose nodded his agreement. Goodman added, “Perhaps if the Kirov brothers worked with Louis - and Jordan if that would be helpful - then Gregor could come up with something quickly. He’ll need access to a proper lab, of course.”
“We have plenty of those,” Delarose said dryly. “Students and teachers are constantly blowing them up, so spares are always being rebuilt to maintain the supply.”
The Headmistress stood, putting her hands on the table to lean over us all. “Then we should get to it. Chief, please inform Orlando’s family, but the specific details are not to be released. Until told otherwise by Elliot or Director Smith they are considered to be Classified. His family is to receive the full death benefit and pension, is that clear?”
She looked first to Isaiah and then to Goodman. “You gentlemen should accompany me to my office, we have more to discuss.” They both agreed. “Louis,” she said as she turned to him, “find the rabbi and his brother. Get them motivated.” He nodded and disappeared.
Which left me. “What should I do, ma’am?” I asked quietly.
Her posture of command softened. “Nothing for now, Jordan, unless the Kirovs send word. Thank you.”
They all got up to file out. Isaiah gave me a concerned nod before he too exited.
I found myself all alone. Just me and the creeping feeling of guilt swarming in my gut. Not only had my coming here put Danielle in the hospital with a missing spirit, but it had just cost an innocent man his life. And his family would soon be suffering an overwhelming grief that I could empathize with all too well.
The stomach knotted up and eyes fought back additional tears, but there was something else stirring within the depths and climbing upwards: rage.
I was furious at the source of all this pain and death. I wanted Azazel to pay. I wanted justice for Orlando, for Danielle, for Tsáyidiel, for those MCO officers, and for all others who had been afflicted by that horrible evil. As I rose from the table with the surging anger I had a questioning thought.
Was my own face now showing the same expression that Isaiah had earlier?
Not knowing what to do while everyone else was busy, I wandered back over to the medical center. Making use of a loaned umbrella, I managed to get soaked by the rain anyway. But I owed Brendan a visit, and wondered if Jenna would also be there.
Brendan was awake and reading a book. The bed was much larger than the usual ones, but given his height I’d imagine not just his feet but practically everything below his knees would stick awkwardly off the end if they had put him in one regular sized. When I walked in he set the book aside on a tray table. He’d been reading The Jerusalem Bible. Wonderful.
“Hiya Brendan, you doing alright?” I asked.
His usual joyful demeanor was missing, instead he seemed wary with the thick circles under the eyes framing a haunted expression. “Hey Jordan.” Gesturing to the thigh tucked under a light blanket, he said, “It could have been a lot worse.”
“I know. And I’m sorry.” I stood awkwardly at the bedside and couldn’t help but stare at the bandages creeping up the side of his hip that peeked out from under the covers.
“Sorry? Why? You didn’t shoot me.”
I bit my lip unable to meet his gaze. “Because I put you all in danger. Just by being here.”
There was a pause of silence. “Huh,” he said. “Well, I guess that partially answers some of my questions. Why don’t you pull up a chair.”
I did so. “You’re not okay, are you. I’m not either, not really.”
“I keep closing my eyes and seeing what I did to those agents. Like it’s stuck on a loop. I broke them. Badly. And they died.”
“The evil killed them, Brendan. The same evil that tried to kill me after I manifested and is still be hunting me. The government guy agrees with that, too. They aren’t pressing any charges. It wasn’t your-”
“No.” He cut me off quietly but with force. “I know the damage I did to them. They would have been paralyzed. Or worse.”
“They were trying to kill us and almost killed Danielle! As it is she’s lost her soul! What else could you have done?”
He growled. “I should have been smarter and either run or hit the damn ground and let the Lieutenant do his job!”
“But you and Jenna saved the Lieutenant and Mrs. Cantrel!”
“Did we? Or did we go charging off blind without having any clue as to what we were getting into? That’s what I’m so mad about. Though I don’t expect you to understand.”
He just shook his head. “Jenna didn’t either, and she needs to. We argued about it this morning.”
Jenna and Brendan fighting? Shit. No wonder he was so upset. “What happened?”
“I told her I didn’t want you to be on our combat team. And that even helping you practice with your powers was a very bad idea.”
I sank further into the chair. All I could say was, “Oh.”
He stared at the blank ceiling. “It’s not your fault. Not about that, or even for whatever evil is after you. You are what you are. And we are what we are.”
“I… I don’t understand.” Pulling feet up onto the chair, my forehead pressed into the knees.
“Your power,” he said, struggling with a way to explain. “It’s not of this world. When it washed over me, I felt… lifted up? Righteous. Invincible. And there was a clear threat and impurity nearby needing to be… smited.”
“I know it can be overwhelming, but-”
“No you don’t!” he shouted angrily, catching himself before taking a sharp breath. “You don’t. I came to this school to learn how to use my abilities with the hopes of some day being a hero and helping people. My dad, though, he’s served his time as a soldier. And one thing he drummed into me over and over was this: ‘When everything goes to shit, boy, you keep your head. You think, you plan, you act. Otherwise you die.’ And that’s just it. I didn’t. Your power, that overwhelming rush, it washed it all away. There was no thought, only this… glory. I was wrapped up in it, exulting in it, and I would have died for it. Without thought, without question.”
He tried to sit up higher on the bed, wincing as that caused his leg to shift. “But I wasn’t invincible. That feeling lied. They shot me with those cursed bullets and penetrated my TK field like it was cardboard. If Jenna and I hadn’t quickly defeated them I would have bled out.”
Looking to where I huddled in my chair, he reached out a huge hand and gently touched mine where they were tightly gripping my shins. “Do you see? I’ve never been religious. My parents sit on the fence between atheism and being agnostic. They always said what a person does is more important than what they believe. But I’ve seen fanaticism. My aunt is born-again and you can see it in her eyes: the only thing that matters to her is serving her faith. She will do things because she believes it is ‘God’s will’, all while spanking my cousins mercilessly as punishment for skipping their prayers to get their schoolwork done. I’ve never understood how someone could be like that, how someone could lose all perspective and sense of self into such a thing. Now I do. It scares me. And I don’t scare easy.”
“Brendan, I…” Words slipped away.
“It’s not your fault,” he said again. “I am what I am. Human. Maybe that makes me weak, and maybe you could learn to control your powers and make us unstoppable. But I don’t think I’d be me. And I’m worried because Jenna doesn’t agree.”
“No. She believes…” he paused. “She believes you were sent here by God. And that we need to protect you no matter what until you can do whatever it is you were sent here to do.”
“But we don’t know that! I’ll admit everything points to me being some sort of angel, but it’s not like I talk to God or anything. In fact, being here like this might be a mistake. Caused by a really old and cunning sorcerer.”
Did I believe that, though? If I hadn’t been here, Evie might have caused a lot of students pain. If not death. Plus Tamara had been possessed by that demon - what would have happened to her?
But Danielle lay without her soul in the other room. And only an hour ago I watched Orlando die.
Was that part of God’s plan too?
Brendan squeezed to get my attention before letting go. “I agree we should protect you. But, no offense, I’m not willing to sacrifice my humanity to do it. Actually, I feel that should also apply to you. You’ve said you were normal before all this happened. Hold on to that. Hold on to who you were.” He pointed to the bible. “Because what angels do in those stories isn’t nice. If anything, they may be the worst fanatics of all.”
We both fell silent. He on the bed with a muscle twitching in that strong jaw of his and I curling deeper in the chair unsure of what to say or do.
“You should find Jenna,” he said finally. “Talk to her. Maybe she wasn’t as overwhelmed as I was, maybe her childhood faith will protect her better. I have no idea how this stuff works.”
“Neither do I,” I said quietly.
“Then you’d better learn. Because whether what’s happened to you is part of some large cosmic plan or not, the impact is likely to be huge and it’s just beginning.”
“Yeah, I know. Just work on keeping the collateral damage down, okay? And when you find Jenna, tell her I’m sorry I yelled. I shouldn’t have. I was raised better than that.”
“Thanks.” He adjusted his sitting position again, clenching teeth against the pain of doing so.
“Is your leg going to heal?”
He nodded. “They say it will, just at a normal human rate. I’ll be stuck on crutches for a couple weeks. It’s just pain, I’ll deal.”
“I’m really sorry.” I had to say it again. I just had to.
“I know, Jordan. I know.” With that he closed his eyes and his breathing deepened.
I walked out.
Since I had at least an hour if not more until Isaiah and Goodman would want dinner, I wandered the halls of the hospital lost in thought until finding myself once again standing outside Danielle’s room.
I hesitated before going in, which was silly. My confused emotions weren’t going to have much impact on someone who’s spirit wasn’t even there. Still, I tried to get myself together as best I could before opening the door.
To my surprise Zap was sitting there playing a game on his phone. A raincoat draped over the back of the chair was dripping into a small puddle on the floor.
He continued swiping across the screen on his phone. “About time you got here. Been waiting. Your phone just goes direct to voicemail and you weren’t at Hawthorne,” he said with a trace of annoyance.
“Uh, my phone is at the bottom of a lake. Feel free to go get it if you want.”
Grunting, he stood up and shoved the phone into a pocket. “I’ve been told to tell you that you’re not listening properly.”
“Excuse me?” Now I was getting irritated.
“Not me,” he said with exasperation as he pointed upwards. “Ra. He’s been pushing at me for the last couple hours to find you.”
My irritation shifted to befuddled worry. “Ra sent you?”
He nodded, eyes reflecting the fluorescent lights. “Ra says you need to pay attention. Your servitor has been trying to talk to you. Anubis agrees.”
First Ra, and now Anubis? I had the sudden thought I should go grab Khan and watch out for women flying by on broomsticks. Oh, and tornadoes. Definitely tornadoes. “Okay, uh… but you’re not my servitor or whatever…”
He looked at me funny. “Of course not.” He gazed towards the ceiling as if listening to something. “They say, and I quote, ‘the angel bound to your word requests an audience’.”
It didn’t make sense, at least not until I focused my perceptions to spirit-side. There was an immediate tugging sensation. Tsáyidiel! His voice flowed quickly into my thoughts.
“My lady!” I could feel his relief at finally making contact.
“Tsáyidiel,” I thought back. “Have you found her?” Hope flared within my heart.
“I have. Her spirit, however, is being held captive. And without your strength, I lack the power to free her.”
Hope collided with fear. Captive? “How do I give you my power? How do I help?” Did he just need me to channel energy to him? Would that work?
“You must travel with me, my lady. Into the realms of ancient dreams. Together I believe we may succeed, either diplomatically or otherwise.”
Zap waited patiently. I wondered if he could hear our conversation. “There’s an angel-,” I started to say.
“That you saved yesterday,” he interrupted. “Yeah, I know. Jenna filled me in; I tried her room after yours.”
“He’s found Danielle’s spirit!”
Zap nodded. “And he needs you to go with him to save her.”
I blinked. “Uh, how’d you know that?”
Gah. “Hang on, Tsáyidiel. I’m trying to deal with someone…”
“How do you think?” Zap pointed up again, though this time he used a middle finger to do so. “They’re insisting that I go with you.”
I looked over at Danielle’s empty shell of a body. It sounded crazy. Traveling to spirit realms? But if there was a chance to save her…
“Tsáyidiel, I will come. Let me prepare.”
“As my lady commands.”
Of course, I had no idea how to do any of it. But first things first. “Zap, you don’t have to do this. It sounds like it could be dangerous.”
He shrugged. “If I don’t, I’m going to have two gods bitching me out for weeks. I’d rather avoid that headache.”
Impulsively I grabbed him in a close hug and gave his cheek a quick peck. “Thanks.” The poor boy flushed, but hugged back. Yeah, I blushed too, surprised by my own impetuousness.
But there was hope. I leaned over Danielle’s unconscious form and kissed her forehead.
“Hang in there, sweetie,” I whispered. “We’re coming for you.”
I used the phone in the hospital to call Mrs. Carson’s office. I may have made up my mind that I was going to gods-know-where (ha, literally!), but I wasn’t going to do so without letting the teachers know all about it. Even if I was afraid they’d try to stop me.
Surprisingly, Carson didn’t. She expressed concern, but seemed more at ease or at least resigned to the idea when I explained that Zap had been sent by his gods to go with me. She said she would send Circe and Rabbi Kirov to my room and to wait until they got there before trying anything.
I agreed. Zap and I proceeded to race through the growing thunderstorm back to Hawthorne.
Running through the front doors (dripping wet yet again!), we made a bee-line towards the elevator but the guy on monitor duty downstairs called out, “Hey Red! You got a delivery!”
Skidding to a halt, I backtracked to the front desk where a senior with wild metal spikes for hair tossed me one of those thickly padded manila envelopes. My name and address was clearly printed both in English and Arabic, which to my surprise I was able to read. The postage was comprised of a ton of foreign stamps.
What the hell?
Ignoring for the moment being able to easily comprehend a totally foreign language, I went over to the lounge and carefully opened the envelope. A slip of paper and a six-inch long scroll with fancy endcaps tied closed by a silk ribbon slid into my hands.
The paper was a handwritten note:
Jordan - I trust this will arrive safely. My research into trying to decipher the ancient symbols Soren used in his ritual led me to this scroll and to something else which I believe is much bigger. I’m still working on gaining access to that and hope to find success soon. However, my arrangements here are not secure and whatever this scroll is, I don’t think it should fall into the wrong hands. That includes governmental fingers. You may have the best shot of unscrambling it, so I’m sending it to you for safe keeping there at Whateley. Hopefully I can get out to see you sooner rather than later, bringing with me an item that may hold the answers to all our questions. Stay safe - Nick
Holy shit. The date stamped on the envelope was marked four days ago. Before the synagogue in Aleppo exploded.
The rabbi and Circe were soon to arrive, and I had a feeling this scroll wasn’t something Nick wanted the rabbi to see as Kirov would likely report about it to others. So with a bit of haste I unrolled the thing, just to get a peek at it.
It was a good thing I was already sitting down. The small pages flowed with script in the same style and language that August had been using for her spells.
They shifted on the pages while I tried to read them, pulling perceptions towards a multiple-dimensional space. I could easily get lost within those symbols and all their complex and arcane meanings that lay tantalizingly close to comprehension.
But I didn’t have that kind of time right now, and worse I had no idea how long it was going to take to save Danielle. Provided we even succeeded and didn’t get our asses kicked by a nasty spirit or whatever was waiting out there.
With an impulsive decision, I re-wound the pages and shoved the scroll back into the envelope. Nick’s note got wedged into a pocket separately.
Zap had stood at my side just watching without commentary.
“C’mon. Let’s see if Jenna is still in.” I hopped up to run for the stairs. Zap followed.
Jenna’s room wasn’t that far from the stairwell and I banged on the door. “Jenna! You in there?”
When it opened I practically threw myself at her to give her a huge hug. If she’d been wearing one of her wigs it would have been knocked off. “Thank goodness.”
“What’s going on? Oh, hi Zap.”
“I don’t have much time,” I babbled. “I’ll have to sum up. Brendan says he’s sorry he yelled at you. The authorities are clearing you and Brendan of any possible charges from the attack by the lake. Tsáyidiel says he knows where Danielle’s spirit is and Zap and I are gonna go free her. Please get Penelope to take care of Khan while we’re gone, especially if it takes too long. And I need you to give this to August Rose, she’s a patient on Danielle’s floor over in Doyle. Tell her to not let anyone see or know anything about it, I mean that. But if anyone can make heads or tails of it, she can.” I shoved the envelope with the scroll into Jenna’s surprised hands. Then I hugged her again.
“Jordan, what?” Poor Jenna was bewildered. “Wait. What do you mean you and Zap are going to free Danielle. If you go, then I go too!”
I shook my head. “It’s somewhere in the spirit realms.”
She was crestfallen. “But I need to keep you safe.”
“Not this time. I’m sorry but I don’t think you can follow, hon. But if we don’t make it back, I want you to know you’ve been an awesome friend. I couldn’t have asked for anyone better.”
“You have to come back, you hear? You have to because…” She was about to say something more, but blinked and just said, “because you do. You got that? Promise me.”
“I promise to do my best.”
She turned her attention to Zap. “You bring her home. Even if you have to knock her crazy stubborn butt out and carry her.”
He grinned. “That’s the plan.”
“Hey!” I looked at him with a scowl. He just grinned wider and shrugged.
Jenna held up the envelope. “And this goes to August. What is it?”
“Truthfully? I have absolutely no idea,” I said. “I’m hoping she’ll figure it out and I think she has a better chance at doing that than I do. But we need to get upstairs and get going. Oh. And give Evie a huge hug for me too, okay? I’d stop by her room too, but I think she’d never let me leave.”
“You could be right about that,” Jenna agreed. “I’m tempted to stop you as it is. But Zap has already saved your butt once, he can do it again if need be. So get going. And good luck!”
“Thanks! We’ll need it!” We hurried towards the stairs. As we got to the end of the hall, Jenna yelled out one last thing.
“Hey Jordan! God will be with you!”
My feet stumbled a step but kept onward.
A flash of lightning illuminated the balcony doors and the resulting crash of thunder shook the building. Circe, Rabbi Kirov, and Isaiah were all standing outside the triple circle within the attic.
Zap and I were inside it, and Zap was crawling onto my bed. He even gave me a wink that bordered on lecherous as he looked down at the fluffy blankets and back at me invitingly.
Yeah, it got me to laugh.
I had been expecting the teachers to object to our planned journey to the outer limits or wherever, but much like Mrs. Carson hadn’t neither Circe nor Rabbi Kirov tried to stop us or even objected. Circe wanted to be present to make sure any crossing over at Whateley didn’t inadvertently leave a door open to the other side, and Kirov, well, he just wanted to see me in full angelic form before I went.
Then again, short of locking me up in a room warded much stronger than the detention center had been before I casually blew it open, I’m not sure that they could have stopped me. So there was that.
Isaiah, however, was clearly not happy about any of it and had pulled me aside as soon as he arrived.
“This is insane!” he had said angrily, but quietly enough to keep the others from hearing.
“Yeah, probably,” I replied. “But our options are… what exactly?”
“It’s too risky. You’re still untrained. Learn control first, then go.”
I sighed. “Yes, Yoda, I hear you.”
He scowled at me, like usual.
“Look,” I said. “Tsáyidiel has explained that time works different there than here. If we wait, that could mean losing all opportunity. And maybe losing her forever.”
“It’s a trap. You know this, right? Your new angel friend was fallen. You can’t trust him.”
“You said it yourself, dude. If he’s in on some scheme, he’ll at least lead us to her. And I’m taking Zap with me - who is being sent by Ra and Anubis.”
His expression darkened further. “Pagan deities both. Not necessarily allies.”
Before he could say anything more, I pulled him into a tight hug. “I’ll be okay, bro. If there is a higher plan to believe in, then this is where it’s leading.”
He had stiffened sharply under the embrace but slowly melted and ceased his protests.
So now I was staring at Zap as he lay back upon my bed. For some reason it was rather distracting. “Uh, I think I know how I’m going to cross over to get to Tsáyidiel, but what are you planning to do?”
Zap rearranged pillows under his long hair. “Anubis is just going to yoink my spirit across. He says it shouldn’t hurt… much. You get to go first.”
“Well, I’m going to try and get to the spirit place in my dreams. I’ll, uh, hold it open for you.”
A nudge at my ankle gave a reminder that I needed to say goodbye to my dearest fluffy friend too. I picked him up, scritching between his ears. “You be good while I’m gone, ya big lug.” Khan stared at me with his green eyes, then squirmed clearly wanting down.
Releasing my hold he jumped from my arms right onto the bed, going over to curl up next to Zap. He yawned widely and settled further in.
Heh. Sleep well, little buddy.
Giving a last nod and farewell to our three witnesses, I let go of the reins holding back the flood of light within my spirit.
The room lit up in perfect synchronization with another flash of lightning and I sighed from the inner pressure’s release flowing outward into wings waiting to take form.
The boom of thunder a moment later rattled the doors. But what those doors showed had already shifted to a different scene altogether: rock, ocean, clouds, and sand now waited behind the glass.
As did a kneeling angel whose wings were dark opposites to my own.
Steadying my nerves, I stepped through willing myself to move completely from here to there, leaving nothing behind. The transition went a lot smoother than I expected.
With just a thought, I was there.
Jenna, holding the manila envelope hidden under her raincoat, knocked on the frame of the open door politely.
A cheery voice called out, “Come in!”
Stepping inside, Jenna made sure the door closed fully behind her. “Sorry to bother you, but you’re August, right?”
The slender girl on the bed grinned. “That’s what it says on my wristband!”
“I’m, uh, a friend of Jordan’s.” Jenna stepped to the bedside.
“Dang,” August said as she noted how Jenna’s coat was dripping water everywhere. “It’s really storming outside, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. Cats and dogs, mass hysteria. The wind is going bonkers. I almost lost my… uhm, nevermind.” She’d been about to say she almost lost her wig in the tempest, but fortunately the glue had held. She’d have to thank the gadgeteer who’d made the improved formula later, come to think of it.
“So, friend of Jordan’s? She need something?” Questioning eyes peered at Jenna from behind the horn-rimmed glasses.
“Yeah, actually. She wanted me to give you this.” Pulling out the envelope, checking first that it had stayed dry, Jenna handed it carefully to the other girl.
August frowned. “What’s this?”
Jenna shrugged. “I don’t know, and Jordan said she didn’t either. Only that you might figure it out. Oh, she also said no one else was to know about it. Are any nurses or doctors going to come in here any time soon?”
The brown-haired girl shook her head. “Nah, I just ate and while they say I’m fine they’re still holding me until the morning just because. Everyone seems really spooked about whatever has been going on.”
Taking a seat in the visitor’s chair, Jenna sighed. “Yeah. I was grilled on things early this morning. Other than Jordan mentioning in passing that I was clear of the government going after me, that’s all I know.”
“The government? What exactly happened?”
“I… I’d rather not talk about it. You gonna open that thing or what?”
August shrugged, though she was clearly disappointed at not getting details. “Sure. Hey, is that Arabic?” As she pried the envelope open the scroll popped out into her hand. “Huh. This looks old.”
Leaning closer, Jenna said, “Yeah it does. Handle it carefully.”
Unraveling the pages onto her lap, August’s eyes ballooned. “Oh wow.”
“What? What is it?” Jenna tried to look, but every time she tried to focus on a page the writing wriggled and she’d find herself looking at the blanket instead. Her eyes started to burn and itch from the effort.
“It’s my writing,” August said in awe. “Not literally, but it’s in my language. The one I made up!”
“It looks older than you are. How?”
“Jordan has this theory. That I’m an angel too.”
August shuffled the pages around as if aligning them better. “I know! Cool right? But she was starting to read my spell-books. Which is totally awesome! No one’s been able to do that before.”
“Huh. Guess that explains why she wanted you to have these. What do they say?” Whatever it was, Jenna was sure it was important.
“It’s weird,” August said. “It’s like a list.”
“A list? Of what?”
“Whose names? Jordan’s? Yours?”
August wasn’t listening. Her eyes devoured the text, rapidly scanning over the symbols as manifested, falling deeper into the true script extending far beyond the pages themselves. In a new voice, one much older and full of heartfelt sorrow, she began to recite.
“Batarel, Araqiel, Kokabiel, Ramiel…”
The papers glowed with golden light, a shine echoed within August’s eyes.
“August?” Jenna said, with growing alarm. “Hey, August?”
The other girl kept reciting. “…Barakiel, Shemhazai, Ananel, Sariel…”
“Dammit, August, snap out of it!” Not knowing what else to do, Jenna let her stone-skin flow over her hand before trying to grab at one of the glowing pages.
Grey fingers slipped right through to the blanket below. The pages brightened even further as they floated into the air, hovering before the girl still reading their contents… and much more.
“…Zadkiel, Armaros, Penemue, Yeqon… my brothers, my sisters, and your children all…”
“WAKE UP!” Jenna shouted.
With a flash, the pages burst into golden flame to fly directly into August’s eyes, passing straight through the glasses perched delicately on her nose. Her irises pulsed in response with that golden light and the lenses exploded outward, scattering shards across the room.
Jenna, stone skin impervious to the tiny sharp fragments, grabbed the girl’s shoulders. “August? August!”
There was no response. The girl had passed out.
In a panic, Jenna lunged for the room’s call button.
From down the hall footsteps could be heard coming at a run while outside another deep boom of thunder echoed mightily across the campus. Hailstones bombarded the windows to announce the storm’s growing fury.